Brazillian jiu-jitsu club fights for a permanent spot at UNC Asheville

Photo by Ezekiel Ballard
Myles Thomas, a senior and president of the Brazlilian Jiu Jitsu club at UNCA, teaches David Hallyburton a way to get yourself out of a pin.

Alena Talbot
Sports Writer 
[email protected]
The Brazillian jiu-jitsu club operates with little public acknowledgment and no official sponsorship, according to the Club President Myles Thomas.
“This club has operated in the shadows in some ways. No one knows it exists but it’s here and it’s very strange for me how it’s always been that way even though we had people who were advertising it and really trying to promote it,” Thomas said.
The club started six years ago and Thomas joined it four years ago as a freshman.
“It’s been interesting. It’s been a bit more of a challenge than I thought it would be. Just coming up with a new plan every night on the days when I can come up with one. It’s fun, I’ll say that,” Thomas said.
The club was originally started by the president of the UNCA Taekwondo club, which went defunct two years ago, according to Thomas.
“No one knew about the club, and we’ve had issues where it’s not on the list of sports clubs websites, so it’s a word of mouth thing,” Thomas said.
The club has shrunk over the past semester despite already being small, according to Thomas.
“The most that we ever really had a time that would show up persistently was about six people so we’re about half that now. We have three to four people who show up consistently, including myself,” Thomas said.
The last president of the club tried to get a sponsorship from a professor in the music department, Wayne Kirby, but was unsuccessful, according to Thomas.
“I found the club at the student involvement fair. I saw them there at the beginning of the semester and I’ve been coming here ever since,” said freshman Ariel Akuneme.
Akuneme has a background in karate and wanted to continue practicing martial arts in college.
“My parents always pushed me to do martial arts and I’ve since been doing it middle school. After I moved to college and got my black belt, I still wanted to do martial arts but I didn’t know a place,” Akuneme said. “It’s not as if I’ve been through dojos for years. I’ve only ever really been here in learning how to do jiu-jitsu.”
Thomas originally became interested in Brazillian jiu-jitsu because of his passion for martial arts. He participated in taekwondo during his senior year of high school and wanted to continue those practices in college.
“It’s something I’ve liked ever since I was a kid, and so for my senior year of high school, I did taekwondo. When I came here, I wanted to continue martial arts and it didn’t really matter which one it was. I searched for any kind of martial arts club here and this is the one I found,” Thomas said.
Several members of the Taekwondo club came to the Brazillian jiu-jitsu club after it fell out of operation, according to Thomas.
“I did martial arts for a while before coming to college and when I first came here, I went to the taekwondo club and went for that for two years and then that stopped. Then I started coming to this one more consistently,” senior David Hallyburton  said.
Brazillian jiu-jitsu is similar to wrestling in many ways, according to Thomas.
“Unlike wrestling, which ends in a pin and a three count, jiu-jitsu ends when someone gets submitted. That could be a choke, or a lock, like an armbar, and things like that,” Thomas said.
Jiu-jitsu is one of the most egalitarian sports in terms of body weight, according to Akuneme.
“With wrestling, you’re just trying to stay in the top position whereas in jiu-jitsu, being on the bottom position isn’t necessarily bad. You can do a lot from there, you can even win the entire match by staying on the bottom if you really wanted to,” Thomas said.
There’s no striking in Brazillian jiu-jitsu like in wrestling which allows more creativity with grips and movement, according to Thomas.
One misconception about jiu-jitsu is that it’s all about strength. It doesn’t matter what your weight is, you could easily pin somebody who was three times your size down,” Akuneme said.
Thomas said no prior experience in martial arts is needed to join the club.
“Being small is kind of the status quo for the club. Honestly, we’re very casual because we don’t really have an instructor, per se. I take the role of the instructor even though I’m technically a white belt still,” he said.
The club is a mix of newcomers and people with experience in martial arts, according to Thomas.
“I showed up, just knowing taekwondo, and had never wrestled before so when I came in I didn’t have any experience with grappling whatsoever. And then I ended up becoming president of the club,” Thomas said. “You can come with no experience and we’ll take care of you.”
Every semester, the club tries to go to a Brazillian jiu-jitsu competition, according to Thomas.
“We’ve done fairly well there. The last one that I went to I got bronze, and the other ones I’ve gotten gold each time,” Thomas said.
A club in Chapel Hill has been staging a tournament with a bunch of other schools that attracts people from all over the UNC system, according to Hallyburton.
“When you’re on the mat and you’re about to compete, it does put a lot more pressure on you than you’ve had in the past. It’s a very different environment,” Thomas said.
The tournaments become less stressful with more experience, according to Thomas.
“During my first tournament, I was terrified. I wasn’t really sure what I was doing at all. My second tournament was a lot better, but your nerves definitely kick in and you have a huge adrenaline rush. You come back more tired than you’ve ever been,” Thomas said.
The club meets four times a week in the evening. Some members practice up to five hours a week, according to Thomas. 
“There’s a lot that this sport has to offer in the way of just learning how to do something and being physical while using your mind,” Thomas said.